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Payton, Walter 1954—

Walter Payton 1954

Retired professional football player

At a Glance

Competed in High School

Most Valuable Player

Superstar

Super Bowl Champion

Sources

One of the strongest and most talented men in football, Walter Payton could bench-press 390 pounds, leg-press more than 700 pounds, throw a football 60 yards, punt it 70 yards, kick 45-yard field goals, and walk the width of the field on his hands. It was this phenomenal combination of power and control that allowed Payton to play in every game except one during his 13 years of National Football League (NFL) competition.

Retiring after the 1987 season, Payton left behind 26 Chicago Bears team records and several NFL records. Ten years later, many of his records still stood, including most yards rushing in a career, most combined yards (rushing and receiving) in a career, most career touchdowns rushing, most 1,000-yard rushing seasons, most 100-yard rushing games in career, and most rushes in career. More than these individual achievements, however, his all-around team play-pass catching, blocking, personality, selflessness, and leadership-inspired his former coach Mike Ditka to call him, as quoted by Koslow, the very best football player Ive ever seen, period-at any position.

Walter Jerry Payton was born on July 25, 1954, in Columbia, Mississippi, a kids paradise in his own words. Woods extended from one side of his house to the Pearl River. Several factories were on the other side. Both settings provided numerous opportunities for mischief with his older brother and sister, Eddie and Pamela. Early on, Payton used his natural running ability to avoid being caught by security guards while playing hide and seek at the nearby factories.

Hyperactive, prankish, and strong-willed, young Walter was often punished by his Baptist parents, Peter and Alyne. Payton later assessed his parents as firm but fair disciplinarians who instilled strong religious faith in their children. My parents spent a lot of time with us and made us feel loved and wanted. I didnt care much about what went on around me, as long as I was in solid at home, he later recalled to Koslow.

Peter Payton worked at a factory that manufactured packs and parachutes for the U.S. government. By 1962 he had saved enough money to move his family to a new home with separate rooms for each child. It was located just one block from John J. Jefferson High School, the segregated school that all black children

At a Glance

Born Walter Jerry Payton ori July 25, 1954, in Columbia, MS; son of Fêter (a factory worker) and Alyne Payton; married Connie Norwood on July 7, 1976; children: Jarrett, Brittany; filed for divorce, 1994. Education: Jackson State College (later Jackson State University), Jackson, MS,B.K., 1975. Religion: Baptist.

Football halfback, punter, and placekicker, Jackson State College, 1971-74; halfback, Chicago Bears, 1975-87; Walter Payton Inc., owner and president, 1979-.

Selected Awards: National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) scoring leader, 1973; Black All-American Team, 1973-74; NCAA Division li Alt-America Team, 1974; College Ail-Star Team, 1974; National Football Conference (NFC) rushing leader, 1976-80; National Football League(NFL) Pro Bowl, 1976-80 and 1983-86; NFL rushing leader and Most Valuable Player, 1977; United Press International (UPI) Athlete of the Year, 1977; Black Athlete of the Year, 1984; Professional Football Mall of Fame, inductee, 1993.

Member: Chicago Bears, board of directors.

Addresses: Office Owner/President, Walter Payton Inc., 300 N Martingale Road #340, Schaumburg, IL 60173.

attended from grades one through 12. Both parents instilled in their children an ideal of excellence, never to settle for second best, as Payton later recalled.

Competed in High School

Taking his parents principles to heart, Payton became a better-than-average student, though music took precedence over studies or sports. He was constantly drumming or tapping out a beat on anything in reach. Often he would dance or sing instead of doing his household chores, much to the dismay of his mother and siblings. When youve got an angry brother and sister chasing you with a broom and a wet towel, well, you learn some good moves, he told a Football Hall of Fame audience at his 1993 induction.

In the ninth grade, Payton joined the track team as a long jumper and played drums in the school band. He consciously avoided the football team where his brother, Eddie, was the star running back. Payton later claimed he did not want his mother having to worry about both of her sons being hurt. After Eddie Payton graduated, Jefferson High Schools football coach asked Payton to try out for the team. Payton, then a sophomore, agreed only after being allowed to stay in the band as well. On his first high-school carry, he ran 65 yards for a touchdown. It was just a taste of things to come.

The next year, 1969, Jefferson merged with all-white Columbia High School, and Payton became the undisputed star of the newly integrated football team. Tommy Davis, Columbias football coach, claimed that he could always count on Payton when the team needed to score. Paytons statistics proved that that was no exaggeration: he scored in every game during his junior and senior years. He was named to the all-conference team three years in a row. Payton also led the Little Dixie Conference in scoring his senior year and made the all-state team. In addition to excelling at football, Payton averaged 18 points a game for Columbias basketball team, leaped three-quarters of an inch short of 23 feet in the long jump, played some baseball, and continued to drum in the school band.

Upon graduating, Payton followed his brother to nearby Jackson State College, soon starting alongside him in the teams backfield. Eddie Payton graduated after Paytons first year at college, however, and joined the NFL, allowing the younger Payton to become the lone star. Payton was the teams halfback, punter, and place kicker, and he even passed on occasional option plays. Playing against other predominantly black schools, he ended his sophomore season as the nations second leading scorer including the highest single-game total (46 points) in college history. The following year, 1973, he ran for 1,139 yards, led the country in scoring with 160 points, was voted the most valuable player in the conference, and was named to the Black All-America team.

That summer, determined to become even better, Payton embarked on a new training program with his brother. The two Paytons sprinted up and down the sandbanks and steep levees alongside the Pearl River during the hottest part of the day. These workouts did more than just build up leg strength and endurance; the constantly shifting sand helped develop balance and the ability to better make a cut or abruptly change direction. Throughout the rest of his career, Payton would conduct similar workouts in comparable settings.

This grueling conditioning led to a successful senior year, capping his college career by becoming the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) all-time leading scorer with 464 points. He was chosen to the Black All-America team again, made the NCAA Division II All-America team, and was named to the College All-Star team. About the only time he finished in second place was during a televised Soul Train dance contest. He still swears that if hed had a girl who could dance better, he could have won that contest, his coach Bob Hill told Esquire years later. Academically, Payton was an all-star as well, graduating in three-and-a-half years with his bachelors degree in special education and beginning work on a masters degree. He studied so hard, he later wrote in his autobiography Sweetness, to help dispel the myth that athletes in general and black athletes in particular dont have to work to get their diplomas and that they dont learn anything anyway.

Payton also picked up the nickname Sweetness during his college years; it would stick with him throughout his career. Some claimed it was because of his sweet moves on the football field. Others attributed it to his sincerity, humble disposition, soft high-pitched voice, and concern for others. Raised a devout Baptist, he always led the team in its pre-game prayer.

The Chicago Bears chose Payton in the first round of the 1975 NFL draft, making him the fourth player picked overall. His pride demanded a signing bonus larger than that received four years earlier by Archie Manning, quarterback from the University of Mississippi, a school formerly closed to blacks. The Bears offered him $126,000, the highest amount ever paid to anyone from Mississippi.

The Bears were one of the NFLs more storied teams, counting many legendary names among their former players--Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Sid Luckman, Gale Sayers, and Dick Butkus. But these stars and those glory days were long gone--the franchise had not had a winning season since 1967. Paytons first season, 1975, was no exception. The team lost six of its first seven games. Payton was slowed by an ankle injury, missed the only game in his NFL career, and played sporadically in others. After healing, though, he gave the Chicago fans an inkling of his talent by leading the league in kickoff returns and finishing the season with 679 yards rushing, the most for any Bears runner since 1969.

The following summer, Connie Norwood, his fiancee, graduated from Jackson State. The two were married, and she became a settling influence for his new life in Chicago. That season he became the focal point of the Bears offense, carrying the ball 311 times, the most in the league, and gaining 1,390 yards. An injury in the seasons final game cost him a chance at the league rushing title, though he led the National Football Conference (NFC) in yards gained. His performance helped the Bears finish with seven victories and seven losses, their best season in eight years.

Most Valuable Player

At training camp in 1977, reporters noticed a different Payton. No longer open and seemingly carefree, he was silent, moody, and irritable. Once the season started, the reason became clear-he had been preparing himself for one of the greatest individual seasons in NFL history. Payton gained 160 yards in the season opener. The first 200-yard game in his career came in the seventh week. He ran for 275 yards in the tenth game, to break O. J. Simpsons single-game rushing record. Many speculated he would break Simpsons season rushing record of 2,003 yards as well. He came close, but a freezing rain during the final game turned the field to ice, made footing a nightmare, and limited him to 47 yards.

Payton ended the season with 1,852 yards rushing, leading the NFL in yards gained and carries. The Bears finished 9-5 and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. To nobodys surprise, Payton was voted the leagues most valuable player, at 23-years old, he was the youngest player to win the honor. Further accolades came from United Press International (UPI) which designated him its Athlete of the Year.

As a national celebrity, fans from across the nation began to recognize Payton by his unique stutter step, running on his toes with short, stiff-legged strides. Though he could run 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, he was never a real breakaway threat, often getting caught from behind. Compact instead of graceful, he preferred running up the middle or off tackle, surprising would-be tacklers with frequent sudden cutbacks and punishing them with a forearm, shoulder, or helmet. No other halfback combined his speed, shiftiness, and brute power.

Ive never seen anybody whos more reluctant to get out of the way of a hit, his former coach Mike Ditka recalled in Esquire.He really does look to punish the guy tackling him. No matter how hard he was tackled, Payton always would spring to his feet immediately and return to the huddle. He enjoyed blocking for other running backs or protecting his quarterback against blitzing linebackers seemingly as much as he loved running the ball. Thats what sets him head and shoulders above other running backs, Gale Sayers-also a running back-commented in Esquire, the maximum effort he puts into the other phases of the game. After scoring a touchdown Payton would hand the football to one of the Bears offensive linemen who blocked for him, explaining in Koslows biography, Walter Pay ton, that theyre the ones who do all the work.

Superstar

Before the 1978 season began, Payton signed contracts for the next three seasons reflecting his superstar status--$400,000 for 1978, $425,000 for 1979, and $450,000 plus incentive bonuses for 1980. Clearly the Bears were expecting big things from him and better days ahead for the team. But under new coach Neill Armstrong they slipped to 7-9 despite Paytons 1,395 yards, most in the NFC, and 50 pass receptions. Together with fullback Roland Harpers 992 yards, the two runners accounted for 72 percent of the Bears offense.

The following year Payton played with a painful pinched nerve in his shoulder but still amassed 1,610 yards, again leading the NFC. The Bears finished 10-6 to make the playoffs, but they were eliminated in the first round. He gained 1,460 yards in 1980 for an unprecedented fifth consecutive NFC rushing title, but the Bears fell to 7-9. The team continued its mediocre play the next year, finishing 6-10, and Payton, injured most of the season with cracked ribs and a sore shoulder, slipped to 1,222 yards, failing to win the NFC rushing title or make the Pro Bowl. Even so, he became the first player in NFL history to run for 1,000 yards six years in a row.

The Bears realized his value, too, signing him to a three-year contract worth $2 million. They also hired Mike Ditka as the new head coach to shake things up. The 1982 season was crippled by a player strike, however, and the Bears finished 3-6. The next season, with Jim McMahon installed at quarterback, they finished 8-8. Payton ran for 1,421 yards and caught 53 passes for 607 yards, personally accounting for 36 percent of the Bears total yardage. After the season he had arthroscopic surgery on both knees and renegotiated his contract to receive $240,000 a year for life, making him the highest-paid player in NFL history.

What Payton really wanted was to play for a Super Bowl champion. The 1984 Bears, much to Paytons liking, showed promise for becoming such a team. Their defense was strong and the offensive line was able to open big holes for Payton and the other running backs while effectively blocking for quarterback McMahon. Though the team finished 10-6, the big story was Payton breaking Jim Browns 19-year NFL career rushing record of 12,312 yards on October 7. He finished the season with 1,684 yards and caught 45 passes to set a new Bears career receiving record.

In the divisional playoff game against the Washington Redskins, Payton ran for 104 yards, threw a 19-yard touchdown pass, and blocked with such ferocity that he knocked a defensive back out of the game. The Bears defeated Washington by a score of 23-19, but they were shut out by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game the following week. Despite his 92 yards rushing and three pass receptions, Payton was despondent, calling it the hardest thing I ever had to deal with.

Super Bowl Champion

Revenge would come the next year when no team could stand in the Bears way. Running up a 15-1 record with a devastating defense and powerful offense, the Bears blasted through the regular season, strutting their superiority with an arrogant attitude and a music video entitled The Super Bowl Shuffle. Payton, with 1,551 yards rushing, was his usual paragon.

Chicago won its two playoff games at home to earn the right to play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Like most of the Bears regular season games, the result was never in doubt. Chicago crushed New England by a score of 46-10. Payton had his Super Bowl ring, but he seemed unhappy and moody in the locker room. Reporters speculated that he was upset because he had not scored a touchdown. They underestimated his competitive nature. It wasnt the touchdown, he told Esquire months later. The game was dull.

The 1986 Bears showed every sign of repeating as champions. They finished 14-2, while Payton displayed his usual form with 1,333 yards rushing and 37 pass receptions. The team stumbled in the playoffs, however, losing to Washington by a score of 27-13. The next season was marred by another player strike. Though the Bears and Payton played well enough to win 11 of their 15 games, they again lost to Washington in the playoffs. Payton was 33-years old, and the Bears had started to split his playing time with talented newcomer Neal Anderson. After 13 years, he decided it was time to retire while still on top of his game, leaving behind 26 Chicago Bears team records and several NFL records: most rushes (3,838); most yards rushing (16,726); most combined (running and receiving) yards (21,736); most rushing touchdowns (110); most 1,000-yard seasons (10); and most 100-yard games (7 7) of any running back in history. Former teammate Dan Hampton accurately summed up Paytons career: No one on this football team and no one in the NFL is actually in Walter Paytons league.

Never one to remain physically idle, he began racing cars and boats while turning his financial attention full time to Walter Payton Inc., his personal company holding investments in real estate, timberland, and restaurants. For many years, he has been working to become the first African American to own an NFL franchise. He also has devoted a great deal of time to various charities in the Chicago area and is on the Chicago Bears board of directors. On July 31, 1993, he was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. His son, Jarrett, made the presentation, telling the assembled crowd: Not only is my dad an exceptional athlete hes my biggest role model and best friend. We do a lot of things together Im sure my sister will endorse this statement: we have a super dad.

Sources

Books

Koslow, Philip, Walter Payton, Chelsea House, 1995. Payton, Walter, with Jenkins, Jerry B., Sweetness, Contemporary Books, 1978.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, September 2, 1979.

Esquire, October 1986, p. 91-97.

Jet, September 5, 1994, p. 48.

New York Times, January 4, 1985, p. 21.

Newsweek, December 5, 1977, p. 63.

Sport, December 1977 p. 57.

Sporting News, October 1, 1984, p. 2.

Sports Illustrated, August 16, 1982, p. 18.

James J. Podesta

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Podesta, James. "Payton, Walter 1954—." Contemporary Black Biography. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. 26 Sep. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Walter Payton

Walter Payton

American football legend, Walter Payton (1954-1999), earned a place in history with his career rushing record of 16,726 yards—an all-time high in the National Football League. The Hall-of-Fame running back played his entire 13-year career with the Chicago Bears. He was a tough competitor who refused to "go down" easily. Where other players would run for the sidelines to avoid a crushing tackle, Payton faced defensive blockers squarely head-on; he made them "earn" the down for a tackle.

Walter Jerry Payton was born in Columbia, Mississippi on July 25, 1954. He was one of three siblings—two boys and one girl—the children of Peter and Alyne Payton. In his younger years, Payton was never a competitive athlete. He stood supportively in the shadow of his older brother, Eddie, and refused to steal the limelight. Instead, Payton took an interest in music and learned to play the drums. He joined the school band in high school, and he sang and played with various rhythm and blues groups in his spare time. During his freshman year of high school he participated in only one sport, track and field. He ventured into football the following year, at the request of the sophomore coach. Payton immediately showed promise when he gained 65 yards on his first ball carry and racked at least one touchdown in every game. By his senior year of high school, Payton's accomplishments were impressive. He continued to play with the school band, stretched his long jump record to 22-feet-11-and-1/4-inches, lettered in basketball, and earned a place on the allstate football team. He averaged 18 points per game on the gridiron, and he was an excellent student. Major universities courted him, but Payton, who was raised in a segregated culture, enrolled at Jackson State University, a small school with a predominantly African American student body.

During his junior year at Jackson, Payton ranked among the top-scoring collegiate football players nationwide, with a total of 160 points for the season. By the end of his senior year he amassed a career total of 464 points—a National College Athletic Association (NCAA) record at that time. Payton graduated with a bachelor's degree in communications at the age of 20, after only three-and-one-half years of school. He enrolled in graduate level courses to prepare for a career in education for the deaf. Payton was a serious student, who belied the prevailing stereotype that athletes were of low intelligence.

Signed with the Chicago Bears

In 1975, when the National Football League (NFL) drafted new recruits from among the graduating college seniors, the Chicago Bears selected Payton as their first choice. He was the fourth player to be selected in the nationwide draft. The Bears offered Payton a bonus of $126,000 as an incentive to join their team. It was the highest signing bonus ever offered to a college player at that time. His performance on the field justified the bonus. After his rookie year Payton led the NFL in kickoff returns. By the end of his football career, in 1987, he held the league record for career rushing yardage, including 110 touchdowns.

In 1977, Payton led the NFL with the most yards rushed in a single game, with 275 yards against the Minnesota Vikings. For that single performance he received the Most Valuable Player award (MVP) for the season. At the age of 23, he was the youngest player ever to receive the award. That season was Payton's personal best, as he averaged a gain of 5.5 yards per ball carry (the highest of his career), and rushed for 1,852 yards, including 14 touchdowns. The Bears signed Payton to a three-year contract in 1978, with annual salaries approaching one-half million dollars. In 1983, he signed the highest contract in NFL history, with a $240,000 lifetime annuity.

Payton proved worthy of the large salary. In 13 years as a player, he missed only one game and later regretted the failing. Payton's day of true glory came on October 7, 1984 on a six-yard play against the New Orleans Saints. The historic run pushed Payton's career rushing yards to a NFL record, surpassing legendary Jim Brown's record of 12,312 career yards. Since that day other players rushed over 13,000 yards, but none bested Payton's career total of 16,726 yards. That same year Chicago played in the conference championship game, an event that had eluded the team repeatedly. The opinion was widely held that Payton was the definitive factor in bringing the Chicago football team to such a high level of achievement. That view was confirmed at the end of the 1985 season when the Bears achieved a memorable win in Super Bowl XX, scoring their first NFL championship since 1963.

Payton was 33 years old when he retired from active play in 1987, having rushed on 77 occasions for over 100 game yards. In ten seasons he rushed for over 1,000 yards, and he ran the ball well over 3,000 times. In 13 years of play he made nine appearances in the Pro Bowl. He shed tears at the end, and it became evident why Payton earned the nickname of "Sweetness" as a college player, and why the label stuck with him throughout his life. Payton's great stamina and fluid motion on the playing field contributed to his legendary reputation. His private training regimen included an exhausting daily run of 20 laps, up and down a steep hill, for overall conditioning and to build endurance. Opposing players respected Payton for facing tacklers head-on. At five-feet-ten-and-one-half inches and 204 pounds, he was never the largest, nor the fastest, but few commanded more respect.

Life After Football

Football to Payton was a job that he did for a time. It was not his chosen career. The essence of his life's work as a businessman and entrepreneur took shape after he retired. He founded his own company, Walter Payton Incorporated, in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, and later moved the business to Schaumburg. Payton Incorporated dealt in various businesses including real estate, travel, and nursing homes. The company was part owner in 20 restaurants and clubs worldwide. Payton managed his businesses personally; he took a hands-on approach to every transaction. He sold his time as both a spokesperson and as a motivational speaker, and lent his endorsement to other companies including Realta Men's Wear, Bryan Foods, Entertainment One, and Chili's Restaurants. He indulged his interest in auto racing, learned to drive the stock cars himself, and invested as co-owner with speedway developer, Dale Coyne, in a car racing business called Payton-Coyne Racing Incorporated. The two owned a fleet of Indy-CART-sanctioned race cars.

In 1988, Payton joined the board of directors of the Chicago Bears. It was uncommon for the board to invite a former player into their ranks; he was only the second player to be so honored. The late Michael McCaskey, then owner of the Bears, quelled media speculation with an announcement that Payton's election to the board was based on "the qualities that he would bring. He is a very smart and very able man, and he loves football. We have sought Walter's advice and counsel." McCaskey was quoted in Chicago, by Richard Lalich. In the early 1990s, Payton was also appointed to the NFL commissioner's board. In 1993, he purchased a 15 percent interest with a group of investors, in a bid to bring an NFL expansion team to the St. Louis, Missouri area.

Payton's first love was for his family. He and his wife, Connie, were married on July 7, 1976 and had two children: Jarrett, born in the early 1980s, and Brittney, born some five years later. He estimated that 75 percent of his time was spent in matters relating to his children. Undoubtedly one of the finest moments of Payton's life occurred in 1998 when he announced that his son would attend the University of Miami and play college football as a running back. Payton's second priority, which often took precedence over business, was the Hoffman Estates High School basketball team, where he volunteered as an assistant coach. His business colleagues shook their heads in disbelief when he cancelled meetings and consultations to be with the team at a game or a practice. According to Payton he loved basketball, whereas football was a means of employment. He was devoted to other children's programs as well and, in 1988, founded the Walter Payton Foundation for needy children. He also co-founded and staffed the Wood and Strings Puppet Theater at Skyway Elementary School.

Payton was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986. It came as no surprise that he was selected for induction to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio on July 31, 1993. At the ceremony Jarrett Payton, then 12 years old, presented the Hall of Fame induction award to his father with the words, "'Not only is my dad an exceptional athlete, he's my biggest role model and best friend."

An Untimely Death

In October 1998, Payton consulted a physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He had been experiencing severe indigestion and weight loss. The doctors soon discovered the source of his discomfort. On February 2, 1999, Payton announced that he had primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a progressive disease of the liver. Without a liver transplant, Payton's condition was terminal. A subsequent diagnosis of bile duct cancer precluded the transplant. In the spring of 1999 he threw out the first baseball of the season at Wrigley Field for the Chicago Cubs in what was effectively his last public appearance.

Payton died on November 1, 1999 in Barrington, Illinois at the age of 45. His wife, children, and mother survived him. Many dignitaries including the U.S. secretary of state, the governor of Illinois, and the commissioner of the NFL attended Payton's funeral at Life Changers Church in Barrington Hills, Illinois. A public memorial at Chicago's Soldier Field was televised nationally on November 6.

In the days after Payton's death, many prominent personalities came forward to eulogize "Sweetness." In a widely quoted remark, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka called Payton, ''The very best football player I've ever seen, period, at any position," according to the New York Times and other sources. The Times went on to quote NFL commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, who labeled Payton, "[O]ne of the greatest players in the history of the sport." Virginia Halas McCaskey, owner of the Chicago Bears, made an emotional statement in mourning the loss. Payton's colleague, Tim Brown, was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle by Nancy Gay and David Bush, "He proved that you didn't have to be 6-4 and 230 pounds to be a physical football player. But when you needed that one yard he always could get it for you." President Bill Clinton made a public statement of sorrow; he praised Payton's ability to endure illness with, "the same grit and determination that he showed every week on the football field."

Payton's autobiography, Sweetness, was published in 1978. He issued a sound recording, Winning in Life, in 1986. A second memoir, Never Die Easy, remained un-completed at the time of Payton's death.

Further Reading

Chicago, July 1993.

Los Angeles Times, November 2, 1999.

New York Times, November 2, 1999.

San Francisco Chronicle, November 2, 1999.

Southern Living, May 1993.

Sports Illustrated, November 8, 1999. □

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Payton, Walter Jerry

Walter Jerry Payton, 1954–99, American football player, b. Columbia, Miss. He played at Jackson State College (now Jackson State Univ.) in Mississippi before being drafted as a running back by the Chicago Bears in 1975. He spent his entire career with the Bears and set many records, including all-time rushing yards (16,726; now surpassed), most 100-yard rushing games (77), and most yards gained rushing in a game (275; now surpassed). Noted for his durability, Payton was the National Football League's most valuable player in 1977 (the youngest player to win the award) and won his only Super Bowl in 1985. He retired in 1987.

See his autobiography, Never Die Easy (2000).

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Payton, Walter 1954–1999

Walter Payton 19541999

Retired professional football player

At a Glance

Competed in High School

Most Valuable Player

Became a Superstar

Became a Super Bowl Champion

Contracted a Deadly Disease

Sources

One of the strongest and most talented men in football, Walter Payton could bench-press 390 pounds, leg-press more than 700 pounds, throw a football 60 yards, punt it 70 yards, kick 45yard field goals, and walk the width of the field on his hands. It was this phenomenal combination of power and control that allowed Payton to play in every game except one during his 13 years of National Football League (NFL) competition.

Retiring after the 1987 season, Payton left behind 26 Chicago Bears team records and several NFL records. Ten years later, many of his records still stood, including most yards rushing in a career, most combined yards (rushing and receiving) in a career, most career touchdowns rushing, most 1,000yard rushing seasons, most 100yard rushing games in career, and most rushes in career. More than these individual achievements, however, his all-around team playpass catching, blocking, personality, selflessness, and leadershipinspired his former coach Mike Ditka to call him, as quoted by Koslow, the very best football player Ive ever seen, periodat any position.

Walter Jerry Payton was born on July 25, 1954, in Columbia, Mississippi, a kids paradise in his own words. Woods extended from one side of his house to the Pearl River. Several factories were on the other side. Both settings provided numerous opportunities for mischief with his older brother and sister, Eddie and Pamela. Early on, Payton used his natural running ability to avoid being caught by security guards while playing hide and seek at the nearby factories.

Hyperactive, prankish, and strong-willed, young Walter was often punished by his Baptist parents, Peter and Alyne. Payton later assessed his parents as firm but fair disciplinarians who instilled strong religious faith in their children. My parents spent a lot of time with us and made us feel loved and wanted. I didnt care much about what went on around me, as long as I was in solid at home, he later recalled to Koslow.

Peter Payton worked at a factory that manufactured packs and parachutes for the U.S. government. By 1962, he had saved enough money to move his family to a new home with separate rooms for each child. It was located just one block from John J. Jefferson High School, the segregated school that all African American children attended from grades one through 12. Both parents instilled in their children an ideal of

At a Glance

Born Walter Jerry Payton on July 25, 1954, in Columbia, MS; died November 1, 1999, in South Barrington, IL; son of Peter (a factory worker) and Alyne Payton; married Connie Norwood on July 7, 1976 (filed for divorce, 1994); children: Jarrett, Brittany; Education: Jackson State College (later Jackson State University), Jackson, MS, B.A., 1975. Religion: Baptist.

Career: Football halfback, punter, and placekicker, Jackson State College, 197174; halfback, Chicago Bears, 197587; part-owner, Payton-Coyne Racing Team; Walter Paytons Roundhouse, owner, 199699; Walter Payton Inc., owner and president, 197999.

Selected awards: National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) scoring leader, 1973; Black All-American Team, 197374; NCAA Division II All-America Team, 1974;College All-Star Team, 1974; National Football Conference (NFC) rushing leader, 1976-80;National football League (NFL) Pro Bowl, 197680 and 198386; NFL rushing leader and Most Valuable Player, 1977; United Press International (UPI) Athlete of the Year, 1977; Black Athlete of the Year, 1984; Professional Football Hall of Fame, inductee, 1993.

Member: Chicago Bears, board of directors; Walter Payton Foundation.

excellence, never to settle for second best, as Payton later recalled.

Competed in High School

Taking his parents principles to heart, Payton became a better-than-average student, though music took precedence over studies or sports. He was constantly drumming or tapping out a beat on anything in reach. Often he would dance or sing instead of doing his household chores, much to the dismay of his mother and siblings. When youve got an angry brother and sister chasing you with a broom and a wet towel, well, you learn some good moves, he told a Football Hall of Fame audience at his 1993 induction.

In the ninth grade, Payton joined the track team as a long jumper and played drums in the school band. He consciously avoided the football team where his brother, Eddie, was the star running back. Payton later claimed he did not want his mother having to worry about both of her sons being hurt. After Eddie Payton graduated, Jefferson High Schools football coach asked Payton to try out for the team. Payton, then a sophomore, agreed only after being allowed to stay in the band as well. On his first high-school carry, he ran 65 yards for a touchdown. It was just a taste of things to come.

Jefferson merged with all-white Columbia High School in 1969, and Payton became the undisputed star of the newly integrated football team. Tommy Davis, Columbias football coach, claimed that he could always count on Payton when the team needed to score. Paytons statistics proved that this was no exaggeration: he scored in every game during his junior and senior years. He was named to the all-conference team three years in a row. Payton also led the Little Dixie Conference in scoring during his senior year and made the all-state team. In addition to excelling at football, Payton averaged 18 points a game for Columbias basketball team, leaped three-quarters of an inch short of 23 feet in the long jump, played some baseball, and continued to play drums in the school band.

Upon graduating, Payton followed his brother to nearby Jackson State College, soon starting alongside him in the teams backfield. Eddie Payton graduated after Paytons first year at college, however, and joined the NFL, allowing the younger Payton to become Jackson States lone star. Payton was the teams halfback, punter, and place kicker, and he even passed on occasional option plays. Playing against other predominantly black schools, he ended his sophomore season as the nations second leading scorer including the highest single-game total (46 points) in college history. The following year, 1973, he ran for 1,139 yards, led the country in scoring with 160 points, was voted the most valuable player in the conference, and was named to the Black All-America team.

Determined to become even better, Payton embarked on a new training program with his brother during the summer of 1973. The two Paytons sprinted up and down the sandbanks and steep levees alongside the Pearl River during the hottest part of the day. These workouts did more than just build up leg strength and endurance; the constantly shifting sand helped develop balance and the ability to better make a cut or abruptly change direction. Throughout the rest of his career, Payton would conduct similar workouts in comparable settings.

This grueling conditioning led to a successful senior year. Payton capped his college career by becoming the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) all-time leading scorer with 464 points. He was chosen to the Black All-America team again, made the NCAA Division II All-America team, and was named to the College All-Star team. About the only time he finished in second place was during a televised Soul Train dance contest. He still swears that if hed had a girl who could dance better, he could have won that contest, his coach Bob Hill told Esquire years later. Academically, Payton was an all-star as well, graduating in three-and- a-half years with his bachelors degree in special education and beginning work on a masters degree. He studied hard, he later wrote in his autobiography Sweetness, to help dispel the myth that athletes in general and black athletes in particular dont have to work to get their diplomas and that they dont learn anything anyway.

Payton also picked up the nickname Sweetness during his college years; it would stick with him throughout his career. Some claimed it was because of his sweet moves on the football field. Others attributed it to his sincerity, humble disposition, soft high-pitched voice, and concern for others. Raised a devout Baptist, he always led the team in its pre-game prayer.

The Chicago Bears chose Payton in the first round of the 1975 NFL draft, making him the fourth player picked overall. He demanded a signing bonus larger than that received four years earlier by Archie Manning, a quarterback from the University of Mississippi, a school formerly closed to African Americans. The Bears offered him 126,000, the highest amount ever paid to anyone from Mississippi.

The Bears were one of the NFLs more storied teams, counting many legendary names among their former playersRed Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Sid Luckman, Gale Sayers, and Dick Butkus. But these stars and those glory days were long gonethe franchise had not had a winning season since 1967. Paytons first season, 1975, was no exception. The team lost six of its first seven games. Payton was slowed by an ankle injury, missed the only game in his NFL career, and played sporadically in others. After healing, though, he gave the Chicago fans an inkling of his talent by leading the league in kickoff returns and finishing the season with 679 yards rushing, the most for any Bears runner since 1969.

The following summer, Connie Norwood, his fiancee, graduated from Jackson State. The two were married, and she became a settling influence in his life. That season he became the focal point of the Bears offense, carrying the ball 311 times, the most in the league, and gaining 1,390 yards. An injury in the seasons final game cost him a chance at the league rushing title, though he led the National Football Conference (NFC) in yards gained. His performance helped the Bears finish with seven victories and seven losses, their best season in eight years.

Most Valuable Player

At training camp in 1977, reporters noticed a different Payton. No longer open and seemingly carefree, he was silent, moody, and irritable. Once the season started, the reason became clearhe had been preparing himself for one of the greatest individual seasons in NFL history. Payton gained 160 yards in the season opener. The first 200yard game in his career came in the seventh week. He ran for 275 yards in the tenth game, which broke O. J. Simpsons single-game rushing record. Many speculated he would break Simpsons season rushing record of 2,003 yards as well. He came close, but a freezing rain during the final game turned the field to ice, made footing a nightmare, and limited him to 47 yards.

Payton ended the 1977 season with 1,852 yards rushing, leading the NFL in yards gained and carries. The Bears finished 95 and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. To nobodys surprise, Payton was voted the leagues Most Valuable Player. At 23years old, he was the youngest player to win the honor. Further accolades came from United Press International (UPI), which designated him its Athlete of the Year.

Fans from across the nation began to recognize Payton by his unique stutter step, running on his toes with short, stiff-legged strides. Although he could run 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, he was never a real breakaway threat, and was often caught from behind by opposing defenders. Compact instead of graceful, he preferred running up the middle or off tackle, surprising would-be tacklers with frequent sudden cutbacks and punishing them with a forearm, shoulder, or helmet. No other halfback combined Paytons speed, shiftiness, and brute power.

Ive never seen anybody whos more reluctant to get out of the way of a hit, his former coach Mike Ditka recalled in Esquire. He really does look to punish the guy tackling him. No matter how hard he was tackled, Payton always would spring to his feet immediately and return to the huddle. He enjoyed blocking for other running backs or protecting his quarterback against blitzing linebackers seemingly as much as he loved running the ball. Thats what sets him head and shoulders above other running backs, Gale Sayersalso a legendary Bears running backcommented in Esquire, the maximum effort he puts into the other phases of the game. After scoring a touchdown, Payton would hand the football to one of the Bears offensive linemen who blocked for him, explaining in Koslows biography, Walter Payton, that theyre the ones who do all the work.

Became a Superstar

Before the 1978 season began, Payton signed contracts for the next three seasons reflecting his superstar status400,000 for 1978, 425,000 for 1979, and 450,000 plus incentive bonuses for 1980. Clearly, the Bears were expecting big things from him and better days for the team. Under new coach Neill Armstrong, the Bears finished with a 79 record despite Paytons 1,395 yards, most in the NFC, and 50 pass receptions. Together with fullback Roland Harpers 992 yards, the two runners accounted for 72 percent of the Bears offense.

The following year, Payton played with a painful pinched nerve in his shoulder but still amassed 1,610 yards, again leading the NFC. The Bears made the playoffs with a 106 record, but they were eliminated in the first round. He gained 1,460 yards in 1980 for an unprecedented fifth consecutive NFC rushing title, but the Bears fell to 79. The team continued its mediocre play the next year, finishing 610, and Payton, injured most of the season with cracked ribs and a sore shoulder, slipped to 1,222 yards, failing to win the NFC rushing title or make the Pro Bowl. Even so, he became the first player in NFL history to run for 1,000 yards six years in a row.

The Bears realized Paytons value, and signed him to a three-year contract worth 2 million. They also hired Mike Ditka as the new head coach. The 1982 season was tarnished by a player strike, however, and the Bears finished 36. The next season, with Jim McMa-hon installed at quarterback, they finished 88. Payton ran for 1,421 yards and caught 53 passes for 607 yards, personally accounting for 36 percent of the Bears total yardage. After the season, Payton had arthroscopic surgery on both knees and renegotiated his contract. He received 240,000 a year for life, making him the highest-paid player in NFL history.

What Payton really wanted was to play for a Super Bowl champion. The 1984 Bears showed tremendous promise. Their defense was strong and the offensive line was able to open big holes for Payton and the other running backs, while effectively blocking for quarterback McMahon. Although the team finished 106, the season was highlighted by Payton breaking Jim Browns 19year NFL career rushing record of 12,312 yards on October 7. He finished the season with 1,684 yards and caught 45 passes to set a new Bears career receiving record.

In the divisional playoff game against the Washington Redskins, Payton ran for 104 yards, threw a 19yard touchdown pass, and blocked with such ferocity that he knocked a defensive back out of the game. The Bears defeated Washington by a score of 2319, but they were shut out by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game the following week. Despite his 92 yards rushing and three pass receptions, Payton was despondent, calling it the hardest thing I ever had to deal with.

Became a Super Bowl Champion

Payton and the rest of his teammates would have their revenge in 1985. Running up a 151 record with a devastating defense and a powerful offense, the Bears blasted through the regular season, strutting their superiority with an arrogant attitude and a music video entitled The Super Bowl Shuffle. Payton enjoyed another excellent season, rushing for 1,551 yards.

Chicago won its two playoff games at home to earn the right to play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Like most of the Bears regular season games, the result was never in doubt. Chicago crushed New England by a score of 4610. Payton had his Super Bowl ring, but he seemed unhappy and moody in the locker room. Reporters speculated that he was upset because he had not scored a touchdown. They underestimated his competitive nature. It wasnt the touchdown, he told Esquire months later. The game was dull.

The 1986 Bears showed every sign of repeating as champions. They finished 142, while Payton displayed his usual form with 1,333 yards rushing and 37 pass receptions. The team stumbled in the playoffs, however, losing to Washington by a score of 2713. The next season was marred by another player strike. Although the Bears and Payton played well enough to win 11 of their 15 games, they again lost to Washington in the playoffs. Payton was 33years old, and the Bears had started to split his playing time with talented newcomer Neal Anderson. After 13 years, Payton decided it was time to retire while still on top of his game. He left behind 26 Chicago Bears team records and several NFL records: most rushes (3,838); most yards rushing (16,726); most combined (running and receiving) yards (21,736); most rushing touchdowns (110); most 1,000yard seasons (10); and most 100yard games (77) of any running back in history. Former teammate Dan Hampton accurately summed up Pay-tons career: No one on this football team and no one in the NFL is actually in Walter Paytons league.

Following his retirement from the NFL, Payton began racing cars and boats while turning his financial attention full time to Walter Payton Inc., his personal company holding investments in real estate, timber, and restaurants. For many years, he worked to become the first African American to own an NFL franchise. He also devoted a great deal of time to various charities in the Chicago area and was on the Chicago Bears board of directors. He was particularly involved with the Walter Payton Foundation, a childrens charity founded by the Bears. On July 31, 1993, Payton was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. His son, Jarrett, made the presentation, telling the assembled crowd: Not only is my dad an exceptional athlete hes my biggest role model and best friend. We do a lot of things together Im sure my sister will endorse this statement: we have a super dad.

Contracted a Deadly Disease

In February of 1999, Payton called a press conference and tearfully announced that he was suffering from a rare liver disease known as primary sclerosing cholangitis or PSC. The disease causes ducts that remove bile from the liver to become blocked. Bile backs up and permanently damages the liver. Payton told the press that he needed a liver transplant in order to save his life. Following the press conference Mike Singletary, Pay-tons close friend and former teammate, tried to remain positive. As I look at Walter and the situation, I think this can be one of his finest hours, he told People Weekly. I think there can be a great example out of this.

However, Payton received another devastating blow in May of 1999 when he learned that he had bile duct cancer. Because of the cancer, he was no longer eligible for a liver transplant. Although his fate was sealed, Payton faced the future with characteristic courage and dignity. On November 1, 1999, he died at his home in South Barrington, Illinois. Upon learning of Paytons death, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue told People Weekly. The tremendous grace and dignity he displayed in his final months reminded us again why Sweetness was the perfect nickname for Walter Pay-ton. On November 6, 1999, fans, friends, loved ones, and former teammates attended a memorial service for Payton at Chicagos Soldier Field, the same field on which he had played so brilliantly. Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke at the service. As reported by the CNN.com, he told the assembled crowd This light called Sweetness now belongs to heaven and to the ages.

Sources

Books

Koslow, Philip, Walter Payton, Chelsea House, 1995.

Payton, Walter, with Jenkins, Jerry B., Sweetness, Contemporary Books, 1978.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, September 2, 1979.

Esquire, October 1986, p. 9197.

Jet, September 5, 1994, p. 48.

New York Times, January 4, 1985, p. 21.

Newsweek, December 5, 1977, p. 63.

People Weekly, November 15, 1999, p. 5658.

Sport, December 1977 p. 57.

Sporting News, October 1, 1984, p. 2.

Sports Illustrated, August 16, 1982, p. 18.

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from CNN.com.

James J. Podesta and David G. Oblender

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Podesta, James; Oblender, David. "Payton, Walter 1954–1999." Contemporary Black Biography. 2000. Encyclopedia.com. 26 Sep. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Podesta, James; Oblender, David. "Payton, Walter 1954–1999." Contemporary Black Biography. 2000. Encyclopedia.com. (September 26, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2872700050.html

Podesta, James; Oblender, David. "Payton, Walter 1954–1999." Contemporary Black Biography. 2000. Retrieved September 26, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2872700050.html

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